George Harrison Was Glad He Wasn’t on the Receiving End of John Lennon’s ‘How Do You Sleep?’
The former Beatle said it was ‘nerve-wracking’ working with his former bandmate again
George was on edge before he even helped record “How Do You Sleep?”
During a 1987 interview with Timothy White for Musician Magazine, George spoke about what it was like helping out on John’s 1971 album, Imagine. George contributed slide guitar to “Gimme Some Truth,” “I Don’t Want To Be A Soldier,” and “How Do You Sleep?” electric guitar on “Oh My Love,” and dobro to “Crippled Inside.”
George said it was “nerve-wracking, as usual” working with John because it was still awkward between them following The Beatles’ split.
“It was nerve-wracking, as usual,” George said. “Previously I’d worked on ‘Instant Karma.’ At that time very strange, intense feelings were going on. Sometimes people don’t talk to each other, thinking they’re not going to be the one to phone you up and risk rejection.
“With John, I knew Klaus Voorman, the bass player, so I could at least ask what was going on over at his little eight-track studio in his house at Tittenhurst Park, and how Klaus was doing. John said, ‘Oh, you know, you should come over,’ so I just put me guitar and amplifier in the car. I turned up and he was openly pleased I came.”
During a 1989 interview with Mark Rowland (per George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters), George explained he and John were never upset with each other for very long. John always offered an olive branch for his negative behavior.
“But John, you know, he was a good lad, he was—there was a part of him that was saintly, that aspired to the truth and great things,” George said. “And there was a part of him that was just, you know… a looney! [Lauaghter.]
“Just like the rest of us! And he had his mood swings and that, but he was basically very honest. If he was a bastard one day, he’d say, ‘Ah well, f*** that, you know, I’m sorry, I was wrong.’ And he’d just deflate any feeling you had against him, any negative feeling. Not like some other people I know who sit on walls … and don’t come clean.”
George was glad ‘How Do You Sleep?’ wasn’t aimed at him
It was tense between all of The Beatles following their split. They broke up because they were all heading in opposite directions in the late 1960s. The cracks that had formed while they were a band grew even larger once they were formally broken up.
There were sticky financial situations to take care of, and a battle started. They disagreed on who should handle The Beatles’ financial affairs. John, George, and Ringo Starr wanted Allen Klein to manage the band. Paul wanted his father-in-law Lee Eastman.
According to NBC News, in 1970, Paul sued his bandmates in London’s High Court of Justice. He sought to dissolve the band’s contractual partnership after his bandmates appointed Klein to preside over The Beatles’ financial affairs.
Things between The Beatles only got worse. In 1971, Paul released “Too Many People” on his album Ram. It poked at John, who Paul thought was doing a little too much preaching. He’d released “Give Peace A Chance” in 1969 and was doing a lot of activism.
Paul thought it was hypocritical and wrote the lyric, “Too many people preaching practices.” “He’d been doing a lot of preaching, and it got up my nose a little bit,” Paul said in 1984 (per Rolling Stone). “In one song, I wrote, ‘Too many people preaching practices,’ I think is the line.
“I mean, that was a little dig at John and Yoko. There wasn’t anything else on it that was about them. Oh, there was ‘You took your lucky break and broke it in two.'”
Days after Paul released Ram, John recorded “How Do You Sleep?” and an opportunity arose. George seemed interested in collaborating again, and John invited him over. Now, two Beatles were playing on a song aimed at Paul.
In the tune, John sings, “Those freaks was right when they said you was dead” and “The only thing you done was yesterday/ And since you’ve gone you’re just another day.”
George told White he was glad “How Do You Sleep?” wasn’t aimed at him. “I enjoyed ‘How Do You Sleep?’; I liked being on that side of it with Paul [chuckles] rather than on the receiving end,” George said.
George and John’s relationship with Paul improved after ‘How Do You Sleep?’
George was no stranger to what was happening with “How Do You Sleep?” While The Beatles were still together, George wrote angry songs aimed at both John and Paul, “Not Guilty” and “Wah Wah.”
However, after “How Do You Sleep?” his and Paul’s relationship improved. They managed to become friends in the late 1970s into the 1980s. Although, George maintained that he’d never be bandmates with Paul ever again.
John also eventually repaired his relationship with Paul. However, John never regretted “How Do You Sleep?”
“You know, I wasn’t really feeling that vicious at the time,” he admitted to Playboy during one of his last interviews. “But I was using my resentment toward Paul to create a song, let’s put it that way. He saw that it pointedly refers to him, and people kept hounding him about it.
“But, you know, there were a few digs on his album before mine. He’s so obscure other people didn’t notice them, but I heard them. I thought, well, I’m not obscure, I just get right down to the nitty-gritty. So he’d done it his way and I did it mine. But as to the line you quoted, yeah, I think Paul died creatively, in a way.”
As much as George, John, and Paul fought, they deeply loved each other.